Founded in Beijing in 2012, TikTok is a mobile app for creating short-form, lip-sync videos, often with comic intent. TikTok’s greatest popularity is in China. Users there account for eight out of every 10 minutes of video viewed on the platform. Still, TikTok’s reach is quickly expanding across the globe. In the U.S., the time users spent on the app in 2019 grew 375% over the prior year, according to App Annie, an app-focused analytics and data firm.
Even so, there’s debate over the extent to which TikTok can be a viable marketing medium for the promo industry. That hasn’t stopped some promo pros from diving in and finding what they say is success with TikTok. Here’s a look at how three of those forward-thinking professionals are using the platform, plus tips on how to leverage it.
The Pro: Natasha Rawls
Account Executive, The MRL Group
TikTok Goal: “I’m trying to create a loyal and engaged following of users in all demographics and industries to build my personal and professional brand,” Rawls says.
Approach: “I’ve used TikTok to create short, fun videos of my day-to-day life – mostly for personal enjoyment, but I’ve also shared videos of my professional side.”
ROI: Rawls gained 15,000 followers within a few months of joining TikTok. Especially notable, she created a video while at a major industry trade show in early 2020 that went viral, achieving a global reach of more than 3.8 million views as of this writing. The video is a product demonstration of a coaster with a special grip for securing drinks and ensuring no spillage. “It has generated traffic to my profile and social media pages almost every minute of the hour for more than a month,” she says. “I measure ROI factors such as leads received, follower count and post-by-post engagement.”
The Pro: Jeremy Picker
Co-founder and CEO, AMB3R (asi/590243)
TikTok Goal: “I’m using it to build my personal brand,” says Picker. “I’m trying to be known on as many platforms as possible. I want to figure out the platform so I can communicate using a different form of media. Another goal is to be seen by a different audience. Even if kids are the main demographic so far in the U.S., those kids have parents who are business owners that need merchandise.”
Approach: Picker often comments on aspects of the promo products life in a way that is humorous and relatable. “It’s about experimenting – bringing your creativity to the platform and having fun with it to see what works,” he says.
ROI: “With hardly any followers and only 10 posts, one of my posts generated 165,000 views, 2000 likes and 34 comments,” says Picker. “In my years on Instagram and Facebook, I never got that kind of engagement.”
— Jeremy Picker (@JWPicker) February 21, 2020
The Pro: Javier Melendez
Account Executive, All Star Incentive Marketing (asi/117110)
TikTok Goal: Melendez knows video can be a powerful medium for brand-building. He says TikTok is a tool that empowers him to easily create videos that get engagement. “It allows me to make quick 15-second videos where I don’t need any special software,” he explains. “I can then post those on the platform and my other social media accounts.”
Approach: “I’m trying to have fun and let loose, but to sprinkle in knowledge at the same time,” Melendez says. “Sometimes I post on more serious subjects, like how to elevate event swag or books that changed my life. But then there are posts where I poke fun at the industry. My intent is to keep creating promotional product-themed content, but to do it in a fun and different way that reflects my personality.”
ROI: Melendez’s videos have helped him spark more engagement on his various social media accounts, while also enabling him to raise his profile with clients and in the promo industry. “Most of my clients aren’t on the platform, but when I share these videos to Instagram, Twitter or even industry Facebook groups, they seem to be very popular,” he says.
Tips for Succeeding With TikTok
Watch First. Picker suggests you spend at least several hours watching videos and getting familiar with the platform before you start producing content. “You will get a feel for the type of videos made, the type of content that people seem to enjoy and how people are making their videos,” notes Melendez. Picker adds: “Pay attention to how people jump on what’s trending. Go to the ‘Discover’ section to see the different challenges off which you can base videos.”
Be Authentic. Put your personality into the videos. Don’t be salesy and stiff. “It’s hard to not pitch or promote things, but the audience will see through that,” says Picker. For Rawls, authenticity comes down to being humorous, friendly and humble. “The TikTok community loves to see what we all do,” she says.
Keep It Short. People don’t want a Martin Scorsese film. Picker suggests nothing longer than 15 to 30 seconds. Melendez thinks 15 seconds should be the max. “It’s the same amount of time as an Instagram story, and people are more likely to watch a 15-second video than a full minute,” he says.
Get the Audio Right. Pick songs you know and love to lip sync to, says Rawls. Melendez adds: “You don’t have to record your own voice/audio in the videos. You can use sounds on the platform for your video – most do. Most of the top trending videos will use the same sounds, and you can even look up videos others have made using that same sound.”
Make It Visually Attractive. “The thumbnail needs to be eye-catching,” says Picker. “We’re in a visual industry, so bring in cool colors, products and even your office or shop digs. In the videos, use stickers and word bubbles to provide highlights and commentary.”
Follow Along. Look for people and pages that fall within your niches and preferences. “There are doctors, celebrities, pro athletes, lawyers, dentists, therapists, consultants and entrepreneurs of all types,” says Rawls. “New users are joining daily in all industries and professions.”
Leverage Hashtags. “If you have a specific market that you want to target, look up the hashtags that might relate to that industry or organization,” advises Melendez. “Once you find a few likeminded users to follow, you will see some of the hashtags that are being used and can start using them too.”
Do Duets. “This is where you make a TikTok from other TikToks,” says Picker. “It shows the other person’s video and then yours next to it. By picking popular ones, you are more likely to have yours shown.”
Share TikToks on Other Social Media Platforms. Picker, Rawls and Melendez all do this. The videos help generate engagement and grow their reach on those platforms – and thus, in the marketplace as a whole.